With the world on lockdown, what are we all watching? This week, I spoke to Ithaca Times columnist Charley Githler (of “Surrounded by Reality” column fame).
IT: How are you holding up?
CG: Oh, not bad, really. You know, I’m a high school teacher, so we’re working from home, and I have a certain amount of job security. And I like being alone, so all in all, not bad.
IT: It’s been fun finding out what people are watching at home under quarantine.
CG: Well, you know, I love movies. I just generally tend to watch stuff from the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. That’s why I kept the cable, because I like Turner Classic Movies. It’s a lot of what we’ve been watching. I’ve got two kids - one’s 11, one’s 15, and I’ve got an older daughter, too. I’m trying to sort of educate them a little bit in movies. So, for example, my daughter and I are going to watch “Harvey” (1950) tonight. [James Stewart stars as a man whose best friend is a pooka named Harvey, in the form of a six-foot 3.5-inch-tall invisible rabbit. Josephine Hull won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.] I love that movie. I’ve shown her “Auntie Mame,” the 1958 version. And we’ve watched some stuff that [TCM] threw on there. They were running a bunch of Jimmy Durante movies last month, and we watched some. Kinda forgettable stuff there. But it’s basically cinema graphic comfort food for me.
IT: I have a lot of movies on the shelf that I’ve never seen, so I try to watch at least one “new” movie a day.
CG: That’s probably smart. I just have been going to my go-to movies, under the guise of showing my daughter, like “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948) [A classic John Huston western adventure drama starring Humphrey Bogart and directed by Huston.] With her, it either grabs her or it doesn’t, but we’re watching scene by scene and I’m saying, “Wait till the next scene. You gotta watch the next scene.” It keeps me engaged in what I’m watching. It’s mostly stuff I’ve seen before. I’m not really venturing out into new territory during quarantine.
IT: What is it about those vintage movies that really gets you?
CG: I’m a history teacher. Part of it is anthropological. Like there was this Jimmy Durante movie that was a Tarzan spoof, I think it was called “Schnarzan” or something. [It’s actually called “Hollywood Party” (1934)] It’s the stupidest movie, but it was such a snapshot of 1934, you know? Because they were trying to work in all kinds of celebrities, and it was very topical. The humor didn’t necessarily age well. But it was just fascinating to watch. And that’s probably true overall for those decades. While I’m watching it, it’s not just about the story, it’s about seeing what life was like and what peoples’ take on things were back then.
IT: TCM shows some pretty wild stuff late at night.
CG: Well, that’s why I keep it, because if I just had streaming stuff, I would be getting peoples’ recommendations, but they throw some stuff in there that nobody remembers, nobody’s heard of. And I would never otherwise see, no one would ever recommend it to me, and I love that. Just obscure s*** that’s like two stars [rating] but somehow, it’s really interesting.
IT: I don’t like the star rating system. Roger Ebert gave all the early Tim Burton movies two stars, and they’re some of his most enduring pictures.
CG: I’m interested in knowing what they gave it, but it doesn’t dictate to me whether I watch a movie or not. Sometimes I wildly disagree with what the star assignment is. I’m just interested in what they gave it anyway. I can’t take my eyes away when I’m looking at the details, you know? What year was it made? I always like to see how many stars they give it.
IT: I’ve been on a Don Knotts kick. I just saw “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” [A 1964 live action-animated film in which Don Knotts is transformed into a fish that fights in WWII.]
CG: Love Don Knotts. I saw that when it came out, this was back in the old days when your parents would drop you off at a movie theater and drive away. And the theater was full of kids, unsupervised. It was chaos. But I remember the movie. There was a great deal of kind of benign neglect of kids in thiose days.